The Ravens, unfortunately, won't have the face of their franchise in the regular-season finale, as linebacker Ray Lewis will make his return from a torn triceps injury during the playoffs, instead. The Packers will be without a similarly iconic defender for Week 17, as Charles Woodson is still sidelined by the broken collarbone he suffered in Week 7.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks got some good news Thursday, as star cornerback Richard Sherman's four-game suspension for performance-enhancing substances was dropped upon appeal. Sherman won't miss any time, and he heads into the final game of the regular season with excellent numbers - 61 tackles (53 solo), one sack, seven interceptions, 23 passes defended and three forced fumbles. He's a strong DB option in leagues that reward points for passes defended.
Another star NFC West defender doesn't appear so lucky, as San Francisco lineman Justin Smith missed last week's game against Seattle with what was referred to as an elbow injury, but might actually be a triceps tear. If it's the latter, it's difficult to see Smith playing against Arizona this week, and he's not guaranteed to appear in the playoffs, either.
Muhammad Wilkerson doesn't have the Smith's name recognition, but he has established himself as one of the league's top 3-4 ends this year in his own right. The Jets defense figures, therefore, to be hurting a bit this week if a concussion Wilkerson suffered keeps him out of Sunday's game against the Bills. If Wilkerson's season is over, he finishes with 66 tackles and five sacks in 15 games.
Richard Sherman, CB, SEA
Sherman was issued a four-game suspension in November for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, but upon appeal, Sherman demonstrated some flaw in the sample collection process, and he gets off the hook on that technicality. Sherman has been one of the league's top corners this year, and despite most quarterbacks' intentions to avoid throwing the ball, Sherman has made plays anyway. He has seven interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and he's been a hit in leagues that award points for passes defended, as he has 23 in 15 games.
Chris Hope, S, ATL
William Moore was having a strong season for Atlanta as he headed into Week 13, but a hamstring injury that developed shortly thereafter has apparently ended his regular season. After totaling 75 tackles, one sack and four interceptions in 12 games, Moore missed the last three due to the injury, and he'll sit out the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay on Sunday, too. That leaves Hope as the Falcons' starter at safety opposite Thomas DeCoud, a role which could yield some IDP utility this week. Hope has two 100-tackle seasons in his career from his days at Tennessee, so he has shown the ability to put up numbers.
Casey Hayward, CB, GB
It's still early in his career and it's difficult to tell just how much he might be the real deal, but Hayward is one defender who deserves some attention for his impressive rookie season. The second-round pick out of Vanderbilt has been very active against the pass this year despite initially coming off the bench, and injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson have allowed Hayward to establish himself as a likely starter in the future. He has 52 tackles and six interceptions despite starting only seven of 15 games. Hayward has been especially viable in leagues that reward points for passes defended, as he has a very impressive total of 20.
Daryl Smith, OLB, JAC
Smith finally made his season debut against the Patriots last week, as a problematic groin injury suffered way back in August somehow kept him sidelined up to that point. He played 86 percent of Jacksonville's defensive snaps Sunday - the most of any Jaguars linebacker - and he's on the Week 17 IDP radar as a result. He only made four tackles in his return, but Smith impressed with well-rounded box scores in the three years prior, averaging 104 tackles (78 solo), 2.8 sacks and one interception per year. He should be better in Week 17 as he shakes off some of the rust that built up over the first 15 weeks.
Brian Urlacher, MLB, CHI
UPDATE: Urlacher is doubtful for Sunday's game
It's still a bit speculative at this point, but it appears that Urlacher might play against Detroit in Week 17 after missing the last three weeks with a hamstring strain. Coach Lovie Smith said he's hopeful Urlacher will make his return against the Lions, and Urlacher was seen running through drills at what appeared to be at or close to full speed prior to Sunday's game against Arizona. If he does get on the field Sunday, Urlacher could provide a boost for Week 17-league owners who need help at linebacker. After a slow start to the year, Urlacher totaled 48 tackles over his last seven games.
Russell Allen, OLB, JAC
Allen has been one of the best IDP steals at linebacker, capitalizing on an injuries to Clint Session and Daryl Smith to emerge as a top-two linebacker for Jacksonville, earning a big snap count in the process. He's been very productive all year, and he heads into the final week of the season with 123 tackles (99 solo) in 15 games. The problem for Allen is that Smith returned to the Jacksonville lineup last week, and Allen's snap count took a hit as a result. Allen finished with just 67 percent of Jacksonville's defensive snaps against the Patriots, and it will be tough for him to sustain his past rate of production on that snap count. Dynasty league owners might not necessarily want to sell, however, because Smith is a free agent after this year.
Justin Tuck, DE, NYG
Few players have been as massive of a letdown, either in real football or IDP terms, as Tuck has been the last two years. After averaging 67 tackles and 9.9 sacks per season from 2007 to 2010, Tuck has been a complete dud since. He has only 43 tackles and three sacks in 2012, which makes him not even worth owning in most formats. Last year wasn't much better, though he did have better numbers (37 tackles, five sacks) in only 12 games. Tuck will be 30 in March, and it appears that decline might be in play. With just 2013 remaining on his five-year, $30 million contract, the Giants wouldn't face a substantial penalty for cutting Tuck after two years of disappointment.
Larry Foote, (3-4) ILB, PIT
Foote has been a very good bargain in IDP leagues this year, emerging with a big snap count and career high numbers after spending most of his career off the IDP radar. He heads into the final week of this year with 104 tackles (70 solo) and four sacks in 15 games, which had him in LB3 territory in most formats. Owners in dynasty formats should do their best to sell him, though. The reason Foote is just now putting up these numbers, in his 11th year in the league, is he's receiving a higher snap count than usual. He's a free agent after this year and will be 33 in June, and the odds of Foote holding down a starting spot in Pittsburgh or anywhere else are not good.
Eric Wright, CB, TB
Wright is an opportunistic gambler at cornerback rather than a shutdown corner, so he invites a good amount of targets for IDP potential, particularly in leagues that reward points for passes defended. Unfortunately, he may have lost his starting role in Tampa Bay as a result of his four-game suspension this year for what as claimed to be Adderall. He might not play in the season finale against Atlanta due to a lack of conditioning, and his suspension has prompted his coach to use some unsettling language regarding his future with the team. Coach Greg Schiano was quoted as saying, "I didn't know it was coming. So how am I going to know it will happen again or won't happen again? I don't," which is a cause for concern if you're Wright, whose suspension allows the Buccaneers to void the $7.5 million in guarantees for 2013.
DeMarcus Ware, (3-4) OLB, DAL
He should be back at full strength by the time 2013 arrives, but in the meantime, star Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware seems to be significantly limited by elbow and shoulder issues. While speaking to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ware refused to confirm or deny whether his shoulder injury will need offseason surgery, and his lack of production further reinforces the idea that he's playing limited. He only played 59 of Dallas' 95 defensive snaps against New Orleans on Sunday, and it looks like a similar arrangement might be in place against Washington this week. Ware has just 2.5 sacks in his last seven games, and it's difficult to count on him as an IDP, even in leagues that reward disproportionately high points for sack production.